QUEEN’S BEASTS (2016-2021) by The Royal Mint
The Royal Mint was never one of the more adventurous producers of bullion coins, relying for a long time on its core Britannia and Sovereign ranges to carry the day. In a rapid turnaround starting in 2014 with the launch of the first Shengxiao Lunar, the mint has greatly expanded its selection with multiple series now making up part of the annual release calendar. The most popular, and impressive of these is Queen’s Beasts.
The Queen’s Beasts were sculpted by James Woodford RA for the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II, held in Westminster Abbey in 1953. Standing six feet tall, they stood guard over the new monarch, and each was a heraldic symbol celebrating the nations royal history. The whole concept was inspired by the King’s Beasts of Henry VIII that to this day, still line the bridge over the moat at Hampton Court Palace. Thee original plaster statues are now located at the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec, while Portland stone replicas, also carved by Woodford, sit in the famous botanical park at Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom.
A terrific idea for a ten-coin bullion series, the Queen’s Beasts also brought with it some fresh thinking. For the first time, the Royal Mint issued a two-ounce silver variant as the main attraction, completely eschewing the common one-ounce format. The designer of the reverse faces of the whole series, was rising star Jody Clark, who was responsible for the latest effigy used on the obverse of all British, and many Commonwealth coins. So basically, all the artistic design on the series is the work of a single individual.
The basic design of each coin is fundamentally similar. A wide border holds all the inscriptions (title, date, composition) and the background field is covered with a ‘chain-link’ pattern that remains absent from the expansive proof range. The specific beast on each coin sits behind a shield decorated with different heraldic symbolism. These are superb coins, with a coherent theme and consistent artistic style. Pre-announcing this as a ten coin set gave collectors a finish line to go for, rather than the unending ranges that fill the bullion market, often disappearing without notice as success has eluded them. No such issues here, as the reception to the first Lion of England coin indicated this was one going to run its course without worry.
There are three basic formats in the range, with two later additions. The core remains a 2 oz 0.9999 silver, with gold represented with a 1oz and a ¼ oz, also in 0.9999 fineness metal. Following on a year later was a nice 10 oz silver version, and unusually, a 1 oz 0.9995 platinum coin. The latter pair, for any given design, carry a date that is one year later than the original trio. All told, it’s a sensible and appealing selection with something for everyone.
The series is now complete, at least in core bullion form. We’re still awaiting the last three 10 oz silver and 1 oz platinum variants, but we know exactly what they’re going to look like. There is, of course, an extensive selection of proof issues of these designs, all of which dump the background field pattern. The sharper quality strike and mirror background field makes these particularly attractive coins, ranging up to a kilogram of gold. It’s also the only way to get a one ounce silver version. Unlike the bullion coins, all of which have unlimited mintages (although only produced in the year of issue), the proof coins are considerably rarer. Here’s to seeing what comes next – perhaps a rerun through the series with a different artists interpretation?
ONE OUNCE PLATINUM
Released on May 15th 2017 as part of London Platinum Week, the Lion of England debuted in one-ounce 0.9995 fineness platinum. This once premium precious metal has fallen way behind gold over the last decade, so these have become relatively more affordable, but also less predictable in future price trends.
The design remains almost the same as the silver, with just the obvious inscription changes differentiating them. Even the change in obverse background field was replicated here also. Again, at the time of publication (Sept 2020), the final three designs are not yet available for sale, and we expect them to debut over the next eighteen months or so.
|VARIANT||2 Oz SILVER||10 Oz SILVER||1 Oz GOLD||¼ Oz GOLD||1 Oz PLATINUM|
|COMPOSITION||0.9999 Silver||0.9999 Silver||0.9999 Gold||0.9999 Gold||0.9999 Platinum|
The Royal Arms are the arms of the monarch, an ancient device that represents their sovereignty. For the arms that represent Queen Elizabeth II and the United Kingdom, two beasts are shown supporting a quartered shield, the Scottish unicorn and the English lion. The crowned golden lion of England has been one of the supporters of the Royal Arms since King James I came to the throne in 1603, but the lion has stood for England far longer.
Richard the Lion heart, son of Henry II, is famed for his three golden lions as the Royal Arms of England; and since the twelfth century, lions have appeared on the coat of arms of every British sovereign.
The mythical Griffin was thought to be strong and courageous, a watchful guardian with keen sight and swift action. It was closely associated with Edward III, who ruled for more than 50 years, and appeared on his private seal.
Designer Jody Clark said, “I depicted the Griffin standing on its hind legs to show its unusual form. It has the body and hind legs of a lion, with the head and wings of an eagle. Elements like the oversized talons and the long sweeping lion’s tail emphasize the creature’s unique appearance. It was thought that this combination made the creature one of the most fierce of The Queen’s Beasts, as the eagle was said to be king of the birds and the lion was king of the beasts. I researched imagery of both lions and eagles in the wild to make sure that my design was realistic, but I was careful to keep a fantastical feel so there is still a sense of the original dramatic sculptures.”
In this new design, the pose of the Griffin reflects the convention of portraits alternating left and right on the UK coinage: whilst the Lion faced right, the Griffin faces left, a pattern that will continue through the collection.
Dragons are one of the best known mythical beasts, and are found in legends all over the world. In Wales it was mentioned in chronicles as early as the sixth century. The Red Dragon of The Queen’s Beasts was an emblem of Owen Tudor, a claim to Welsh heritage that was carried on by his son, who would become Henry VII.
The troops of Henry VII carried a fiery red dragon standard at the Battle of Bosworth, when Henry secured the crown of England. The dragon is red, but with a yellow underbelly and it holds a quartered red and gold shield with leopards, the arms of Llewelyn ap Griffith, the last native Prince of Wales. In Europe, the dragon was seen as a frightening creature, but strong, wise and powerful.
Thomas Lloyd, The Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary writes: “The dragon is one of the oldest and best known of all mythical beasts, drawn on as often today as in the far distant past. From Western Europe to China and Japan, it appears in different forms, lizard-like and fire-breathing in the East and in the West upstanding and muscular, its tongue like an arrow, standing for strength, speed and power beyond human ability, intended to strike terror into its enemies.
The Red Dragon has especially become the emblem of ancient Welsh pride, emerging from heroic traditions of King Arthur and his father Uther Pendragon, to become a Royal Beast of the Tudor monarchs, supporting the coat of arms of that proud Welsh dynasty. From there it has become the emblem of the modern Welsh nation, resplendent on the Welsh flag against a background of white and green, the livery colours of the Tudor sovereigns. In this form also, it is Her Majesty the Queen’s Royal Badge for Wales, encircled with a riband bearing the motto: “Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn” (The Red Dragon Gives The Lead”), so that the Red Dragon today retains its significance as a Royal Beast no less than in centuries past”
In 1603, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England – uniting the thrones for the first time. The new king took the Lion of England and one of the Scottish unicorns as supporters for the Royal Arms and they have remained in place ever since. The origin of the unicorn as a regular supporter of the Scottish arms is unknown, but it has been associated with Scotland from the fifteenth century, struck on gold coins called ‘unicorns’ for their design of a unicorn supporting the shield of Scotland.
The Unicorn of Scotland, milk-white with gold hooves, horn and mane, has always had a coronet around its neck like a collar, with a gold chain attached. It’s thought that the chains were to show a great beast tamed to serve the king; certainly, as with most chained beasts in heraldry, its strength is emphasized rather than diminished by their shackles. It holds the royal coat of Scotland, with a red lion rampant (the most fierce stance) on a gold background, which has been unchanged since Alexander III.
The Black Bull of Clarence is synonymous with power and strength and is thought to have featured on the shields of the Yorkist army that defeated the House of Lancaster in 1461, making Edward IV the first Yorkist king of England. The bull started to appear on coins and the Royal Arms during the 1560s when Elizabeth I ordered the re-coinage of all silver coins.
The Yale descends to The Queen through Henry VII, who inherited the beast from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who had played a role in the Wars of the Roses. Her position as matriarch of the Tudor dynasty gave the Yale prestige and symbolic meaning. The Yale is a mythical beast, described as the size of a hippopotamus with the tail of an elephant, the jaws of a boar and of a black or tawny colour and has the ability to swivel each of its horns independently to use as a prominent weapon.
Jody says of his design, “As the yale is one of the more obtuse and mythical creatures of The Queen’s Beasts, I did a lot of research into its background and its influence which has been carried through to the modern day. It was evident within my research that the yale has been depicted differently throughout the ages but the most interesting aspect, for me, was its horns as they are a constant feature in many depictions. I wanted this to be a focal point in my design, as well as maintaining its mystery and ancient heritage.
Even though the yale isn’t a real creature, I wanted the design to portray the yale as a creature of regal stature, a creature which is both rare and magnificent. I looked at lots of images of animals such as wild boards, goats, bulls and elephants to get the elements of the yale just right.”
The Falcon passed to The Queen from the Plantagenet king Edward III. He chose the symbol to embody his love of hawking but it is also closely associated with his great-great-grandson, Edward IV. The white Falcon at The Queen’s coronation held a shield with a badge depicting a second white falcon within an open golden ‘fetterlock’ or padlock.
The fetterlock and the falcon were popular emblems in the Houses of both York and Lancaster, as they had descended from Edward III’s younger sons John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley. The fetterlocks used by John and Edmund were always locked, perhaps to show they had no claim to the throne. Edward IV gave his younger son, Richard, the badge of a white falcon within an open fetterlock – the lock Edward forced to take the throne. Henry VII, who united the houses of York and Lancaster with his marriage to Elizabeth of York, often used a falcon symbol and it was said to be the favorite badge of Queen Elizabeth I.
The White Horse is a beast with a long history, deeply rooted in Germany’s past and that of George I’s medieval ancestors. The first documented use of the horse comes from the seal of Albert I, Duke of Brunswich-Grubenhaben in 1361. Albert I was a member of the Guelph family, who provided many German monarchs, princes and dukes from the eleventh century onward. From the mid-fourteenth century his kinsmen, rulers of other parts of Brunswick, also adopted the symbol.
Jody Clark says of his design, “Given its similarity to the unicorn, I was keen to give the horse a different pose to keep it distinct from its mythical relative. Unlike the unicorn, the White Horse faces to the right, as does Her Majesty The Queen on the obverse, signifying the royal ancestry and history of monarchy that it represents. I tried to give this horse a strong silhouette by posing the horse in profile, working hard to give the muscles a level of realism and look of strength befitting this magnificent heraldic beast.”
Lions are perhaps the most well-known symbols in heraldry and are often depicted as fearsome creatures. The White Lion of Mortimer is usually shown sitting with its tail between its legs, characterizing traits of loyalty and discipline. Unlike the Lion of England, the White Lion is uncrowned, and its tongue and claws are blue as opposed to red.
Jody Clark says of his design, “During my initial sketches I quickly realized that a profile side view of this beast would be the most effective, mainly because of its tail and stance. The White Lion faces to the right, as does Her Majesty The Queen on the obverse, signifying the royal ancestry and history of the monarchy. It is portrayed differently to the Lion of England which faces head-on, ferocious and rampant, and the strong silhouette around the White Lion accentuates the prominent features of its tail, mane and shield. It was important that the lions were portrayed differently as they embody distinct and contrasting aspects of the history of the monarchy.”
The greyhound is a favored dog species among the residents of Northern England, from a historical standpoint. The White Greyhound took a long route to get to the Royal Arms of England. The greyhound was first used in the badge of John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Richmond. John of Gaunt was the third son of King Edward III. John’s son would eventually also use the White Greyhound in his badge as King Henry IV of England. Henry IV was Edward III’s grandson and asserted his right to the throne through his grandfather.
The White Greyhound of Richmond made its way to the Royal Arms with the rise of the House of Tudor under King Henry VII. The greyhound remained associated with the titleholder Earl of Richmond. When Edmund Tudor, father of King Henry VII, was made the first Duke of Richmond, he used the White Greyhound in his badges. After Henry VII ascended the throne, he would use the White Greyhound in his Royal Arms.
Under King Henry VII, the White Greyhound of Richmond often replaced the Lion of England as a supporter of the Royal Arms. As this design shows in the Queen’s Beast Series, the White Greyhound would often support the seal of the House of Tudor. The seal includes a double-rose of white at the center and red surrounding to symbolize Henry VII’s unification of the cadet houses of the Plantagenets: House of York and House of Lancaster.
A surprise issue, the so called ‘Completer’ coin takes miniature images of the beasts from the ten normal coins and lays them out in a circle around the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. Also coming with this issue is a striking one-kilogram silver variant. A fine end.